The other morning a friend and I met for coffee. I get to do that here and there -- like normal moms who send their kids to school every day for six hours and get time to themselves. My oldest son is able to be at home with a very long list of independent work and he relishes the opportunity to live up to that privilege so he works hard to do what is left for him. This year my youngest is in a little in-home preschool group which meets twice a week. Usually those are days for me to do the "hard stuff" with my eldest. After I drop my preschooler off, we buckle down and get into Plutarch, Shakespeare, Streams of Civilization, Reading Aloud (without interruption) and some poetry and writing. But, once in a while I allow myself a little get-away with another mom for the morning and I load my eldest up so he has plenty to do while I am away for two hours.
As I met with this friend, she seemed to have something important on her mind. It turns out she is thinking about pulling her children out of public school and educating them at home. We talked for some time about all kinds of factors that go into that decision. Some of them were very personal to her decision, but some were general concerns and it made me realize it could be helpful to put together a post for people who are standing next to the roller coaster called "Home Education" and wondering if they should get in line for the ride or walk away.
So, here are some common thoughts or fears you may have, followed by my attempt to give some answers or at least food for thought about each:
1. What if we have a rough first year?
2. How do I pick curriculum (learning materials)?
3. Do you just juggle from child to child all the time?
4. What if I am too perfectionistic?
5. My husband doesn't want me to do this. He thinks I'll be too stressed or we won't do this right.
6. How will my kids socialize? (aka: How will I socialize?)
7. How will I get them ready for college? (or: My inlaws think I'll be ruining their grandkids).
8. I don't even remember how to do algebra, how will I teach it to my child?
9. Will I get sick of my kids being around me all the time? How will I get time to do anything alone?
10. Are my kids going to be weird? (I'm just sayin') ...
Ok, let's tackle these one by one ... I'll touch on concerns #1 and #2 here in this post and then I'll address other concerns in the next few posts. By the way, if you have other concerns or thoughts, you can leave them in the comments section and I'll try to be helpful if I can.
1. So, a rough first year. Yep. You will have some really, really hard days. Don't you have hard days sometimes now? Well, that doesn't stop. Life is life and it has hard days, weeks, months, seasons. And, homeschooling doesn't change that. The first year, no matter how you slice it, is a year of adjustment. It's like having a new baby, starting a new job, moving to a new city. These are transitions, and starting homeschooling is a transition too.
I saw a few key changes occur as we weathered the highs and lows of our first year. For one thing I think God allowed my "worst" to come out so He could then draw out my best. I'm not just saying this. Homeschooling has been a tool of refinement and God has used it to grow me. I have become a much better version of me (most days) since I began homeschooling my children. Also, when my son was in public school (he was for K and 1) he wasn't with me enough to ride out the waves of my reactions to him. When I had a bad moment or bad day, he was experiencing me in the afternoon after a full day of school which left him burnt out and disconnected from me because he had been in school all day -- away from me. When we started homeschooling he got to see me sometimes get upset and he got to watch me calm back down. He got to see that when I get upset it is about me, not him. Yes, he can do things to agitate me, but my reaction is mine, and somehow he stopped taking me so personally and he detached in a very healthy way. I did raise my voice a lot that first year (I have to tell you that so you know you aren't alone if this is you). I was anxious to do everything well and I had a boat-load of expectations of myself and my son. I compared to externals and that kept me striving and worrying. I was also getting familiar with how to even do this whole business of home education. We also had an infant who started walking that year and then climbing ... need I say more? But, you will have all kinds of factors in your life your first year of home education too and it will be a year of learning and growing. Don't let the challenges and growing-pains of the first year be the barometer of whether this approach to education is a fit for your family. It will sometimes be hard no matter how you slice it, but there will be great moments, days and weeks. We have some wonderful memories from that first year and even from the very early weeks all the way until the end of that year my son was begging never to go back to public school.
But, the first year is not at all a terrible thing. A lot of good comes in that first year. So, my advice is don't expect to miss the challenge of adjusting, but do learn to be aware of your own expectations of yourself and your children and try to step back and regroup as often as you need to. Gather some honest, caring friends or family members around you and ask them in advance to give you support. Take breaks when you burn out. Trust that your children will learn a lot and your stress is often the very thing that will hinder their learning. Some people recommend de-schooling for the first year or so if you are leaving a formally structured setting and going into homeschooling. I wish we had known about that.
2. About picking a curriculum (or learning materials): Well, that question is like asking what to eat when you go to a restaurant but not telling me what kind of restaurant you are going to. If you are at P.F.Changs I have a very different suggestion than if you are going to The Olive Garden. So, first, you have to kind of get a feel for who you are as a homeschool family. There are a variety of approaches to Home Education. If you talk to anyone who homeschools within a short bit of time you can hear what they are doing with their children. And, of course what they are doing is right for you too, right? Well, not always. We are all constantly growing and changing as we progress in this experience, so it isn't always straightforward what approaches or curriculum you will use.
There are such a variety of options as to how to provide learning experiences to your children. There are online academies where your child will do work online and check in with a teacher remotely via Skype. There are local support groups in many cities and communities and even charter schools or PSPs (Private School Satelite Programs) which support you with enrichment classes, extra-curriculur activites and even keep transcript paperwork for you. There are co-ops where families join together to teach their children using agreed curriculum one or more days a week. And, you can just file as a private school yourself and do things independently. Even then, there are groups on Facebook and in the community who meet for playdates, park dates, learning activities and field trips. You will have so many options as to how to enrich your child's learning experiences. As you start to explore the options, you will probably feel both encouraged and overwhelmed.
Before you get too overwhelmed, I do suggest thinking through why you are choosing to homeschool in the first place. Jot down what is making you long to do this. What are you moving away from? What are you moving towards? What are your visions or dreams about what can happen when you choose to home educate? As you define values and reasons, you are setting out a mission/vision. This may be very muddy at first, especially since you are new at this. Over the years it will grow and change. Still, on the bad or hard days, you can pull it out and remind yourself of your motivations and purposes and it will give you momentum when you lag. A good book for getting an idea what approaches to home learning are out there is Homeschooling Methods. I also recommend: For the Children's Sake. It is truly my favorite (but that one shows my bias towards a Charlotte Mason Education).
Once you have a feel for the "why" and "how" you want to homeschool, you can search out materials to support the "what." There are good books like Cathy Duffy's 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, and there are a myriad of websites and vendors who will provide you with great options. The key will be knowing your approach to homeschooling and your vision and mission so that you can sift options that come your way through that filter and know if they are a fit for you and your children.
If you are wondering what we do over here, we use Charlotte Mason's approach and actually a lot of the same books and materials she used or things which fall in line with what she called "living books" which are books which grab a child's attention because they are engaging. I like to picture myself as laying out a feast of wonderful ideas and experiences and my boys get to glean from it as they would a buffet. They take what is proper to them and they ingest it and as they do they are edified and filled. They come back for more. They share what they have taken away. It is a wonderful way to engage them in learning and in continuing to love learning. No. Every day is not sheer bliss. My son occasionally procrastinates; we sometimes get off track; we have times where we butt heads. But, overall, the atmosphere in our home is loving and we enjoy what we do. We have grown to the point where my son said this year, "Mom, we finally are getting good at this." It can happen for you too. Keep coming back here over the next few weeks and I'll be posting more thoughts and suggestions for those of you new to this adventure.